Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ask An Expert

Today, on "Ask An Expert", we have with us noted diplomat and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

AAE: Mr. Kissinger, please tell us more about the latest research on genetic treatments for cancer.

K: I'm afraid I don't know. My area of expertise is in foreign policy.

AAE: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Henry Kissinger.

Next time, "Ask An Expert" talks to legendary Hollywood director Steven Spielberg about French cuisine!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

They Endure

Seeing falcons perched on the streetlamps forces you to think a little differently about ecology.

People talk about how fragile ecosystems are--and they are, anyone who doubts that should talk for a few moments to the people who work to conserve them--but what we sometimes forget is how durable life is. Survival is a question of adaptation, and living beings have been doing that since we ditched asexual reproduction. Animals are good at hiding, and hunting, and scavenging, and if there's a behavior that helps them to survive, they'll learn it.

Living in Minneapolis sometimes helps me remember that. It seems "urban"; we've got malls, skyscrapers, highways, cars, and people everywhere. But when you drive along those highways and see falcons perched on the streetlamps, ready to swoop down into the grass along the side of the roads and snatch up some small animal you can't even see when you're driving 55, you wonder just how much they even notice us, let alone fear us. When you're driving home, and foxes dart across the road and into the underbrush, or you pass a small herd of deer on your neighbor's lawn, you wonder just how easy it is for even a large animal to hide in "domesticated" suburbia. And when a motion-sensitive camera captures a shot of a full-grown mountain lion in the middle of the night, staring into the night-lens as though it knows full well it's being watched...

You feel a giddy thrill of terror and amazement. We are not the most powerful animals, not even here in our homes. We're not always forcing nature away; sometimes, we're just finding new ways to bring it to us.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Not All Crazy People Are Writers, But...

There's a classic quote from Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman', in which Calliope the muse discovers she's been sold to a new owner by her captor, Erasmus Fry. She says, "But you said that someday, you would grant me my freedom. You promised!" Fry responds, "Writers are liars. Surely you must have discovered that by now?" (Inexact memory might cause me to paraphrase that. A general trait of my writing is I'm a lazy bugger who can't be arsed to look things up, and my memory generally covers for it.)

And yes. Writers are liars. But beyond that, they're clinically insane. How many times have you heard of a writer talking about a story that "wrote itself"? Or a writer who talked about how he planned to do something with a character, but the character "told him not to", or "went somewhere different than I expected." When you read the words of a writer, you are reading the thoughts of someone so utterly delusional that they've created entire, internally consistent personalities inside their head and are channelling them out onto the page. Not just sci-fi, horror, and fantasy writers (generally considered to be the "crazy people" of the profession), but even the most mainstream of mainstream writers are essentially borderline schizophrenic.

So be glad writers can make a living at this shit. Because otherwise you'd be paying to institutionalize us.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

It's Not A Theory!

I think it's time for a unified front in the face of Intelligent Design.

Yes, I know, all sensible people are united in the face of Intelligent Design, because as right-wing looniness goes, it's right up there with the dangers of fluoride in the drinking water and the way video games are corrupting the nation's youth. But I mean, a specific united front. Currently, a big danger for liberals is that right-wing insanity is so all-encompassing, so thoroughly objectionable, and so vastly insane that it's hard to focus on a specific thing to fight them on. (Danger: This may become a Theme of later entries.)

But with Intelligent Design Theory, there is a single point at which I think we all should focus our efforts. Every time the phrase "Intelligent Design Theory" comes up anywhere, I think advocates of...oh, let's just call it "sanity and common sense" should just say, "That's not a theory. It's a hypothesis."

Because it's not. A hypothesis is an idea that a scientist has for a possible understanding of how something works. He then tests that idea in an experiment. Hypotheses that have been validated by tests become theories, which are then retested to refine the theory. Eventually, a theory that becomes fundamental and proven enough is termed a law.

So for ID to be a theory, that must mean there's some sort of test out there that has yielded results which suggest that there is an intelligent force that designed all life. Since ID is just creationism with a fake moustache, no such test exists, but that hasn't stopped people from calling it a theory. I don't think people should let that pass unchallenged. Force them to call it what it is--a wild guess, not a piece of science. Because the essence of science is forcing you to prove your assumptions to be true or else abandon them. The moment you say, "A higher power must have done it," you might as well give up and go back to the caves.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Under the Hood: Time Chasers

This is a thought I've had from time to time: Why does Hollywood always remake good movies? Surely, the movies that most deserve to be remade are the ones that were bad, since they got it wrong on the first try. This is the first in an intermittent series of attempts to look at bad movies and see how they could be made good.

Time Chasers, for those of you unfamiliar with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic, is a film about a science teacher named Nick who invents a time machine, installs it in a light plane, and then sells it to an evil company called GenCorp. GenCorp makes its own version of the time machine (in another light plane), and before long, Nick's discovered that the beautiful utopian future of recycling and fuel efficiency he once visited has been replaced by a back alley somewhere in Vermont that's meant to represent a post-apocalyptic dystopia. So he has to go back in time and convince himself to keep the secrets of time travel secret, lest evil GenCorp CEO JK Robertson use it for...well, evil.

The first thing the movie needs, and the most obvious, is a budget upgrade. Because, wow, is it cheap. The time machines are, as previously noted, light planes. The evil GenCorp is represented in the exterior shots as what looks to be a VoTech college and by the interior shots as what looks to be a local library. Electric drills are pressed into service as guns and nobody seems to notice. The actors are...well, they're not the worst. They're reasonable. But I'm sure that even they would agree that replacing them with Tom Cruise and Maura Tierney would be fair.

The second thing it needs is a logic overhaul for the main plot device--namely, that Nick has managed to develop a home time machine, but that he needs a little spare cash and has to sell the rights to EvilCorp. There's a scene that practically rubs your face in the number of ways you could make insane amounts of money with a functioning time machine, and it occurs before Nick sells the rights. I'd change GenCorp from an evil corporation to a humanitarian foundation, and instead of Nick wanting to make a little spare cash, he thinks that the awesome responsibility of time travel needs to be considered by more than just a high school science teacher. JK could go from being a slick, oily, evil CEO to a Palpatine-style manipulator who tells Nick everything he wants to hear until he can get the time machine for his own personal gain.

The budget upgrade also allows us to highlight something they didn't have the budget to really show in the initial version: It's not that GenCorp does something awful that wrecks the future, it's that they commercialize time travel in ways that cause catastrophic problems. You could get into this a lot more in the high-budget version--our version of JK has sold various time travel applications to major corporations, allowing them to steal their own future patents, dump waste in the far future, and other things that are short-sighted but profitable. (He's been able to do all this in the span of a few days because for him, it's been a year--he's just been taking the time machine and traveling back over the same span of days over and over again in order to get all this done before Nick even knows about it.) JK's being careful not to use the time machine to change history, he's not that insane, but he's perfectly willing to sabotage the future. After all, it's years away. Plenty of time to fix it.

But the future is fighting back. The movie, due to its low budget, could only function with two light planes, but our hypothetical high-budget version could see people from the future with pirated time technology willing to wreck the "no changing history" rule. Nick is the target, not JK, because JK is careful to keep a scapegoat handy. In order to find out why crazy people from the future are targeting him, he zips out there, and sees the devastation first-hand.

Then, things pretty much head along the same track as the film, but higher budget. After a confrontation and narrow escape from JK, Nick decides that the only way to stop things now is to visit his own past self and make sure he doesn't give the technology to JK. JK, in turn, decides that it's time to take Nick out of the picture. The two of them have a "time chase" (you'd probably want to establish, unlike the actual film, that one time craft can track another), which ends with Nick crashing his light plane and JK capturing Nick with the intent of taking him back to the Revolutionary War and killing him 200 years before anyone might find the death suspicious. (He's at this point desperate enough to slightly bend the "no changing history" rule.) The actual sequence in the film is a little weak, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a higher budget and better staging.

However, past Nick finds the ruins of present Nick's light plane, and deduces that his future self had something to tell him. He tracks JK's craft, gets a group of Minutemen to help turn the tide against JK, saves his own future self, and agrees to destroy all info on the time machine. JK tries to escape and keep the technology, but present Nick manages to get on board his time craft and crash it in Revolutionary days, killing both of them. Past Nick, though, refuses to turn over the time tech, and inadvertently saves both his own life and JK's, while preserving the utopia he's seen come to pass.

It'd certainly be better...

Friday, August 26, 2005

An Interview With Dave Good

Fraggmented is proud to present an interview with Dave Good, the so-called "Fifth Horseman" of the Apocalypse.

F: Dave, good to talk with you.

D: Thanks, man. It's good to be here.

F: So let's start with the basics. Everyone's heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, they who will ride at the End of Days bringing with them diverse evils to mankind. You were, in fact, one of these Horsemen?

D: Yeah. Of course, that was back before they struck it big. We used to play small villages, just Death, Pestilence, Famine, and myself. And I tell you, we really killed. I mean, we knocked 'em dead.

F: This would be millennia ago, during the pre-civilized days of the human race?

D: Yeah. I know, I'm an old fogey, right? Anyhow, we were starting to get into the big time, as humanity moved from small agrarian settlements to towns and cities, and the group came to me, and said, "We have to talk." That's when I knew it was over.

F: You were being replaced.

D: They'd been talking, and they felt--and I still can't say I blame them--that they needed someone who was another anthropomorphic personification, rather than a bloke who was reasonably good on horseback. I still remember Death saying, "It just doesn't sound right. Pestilence, Famine, Death, and Dave?"

F: They have a point.

D: Oh, I know. And I don't blame them for it, although War was a bit of a smug git when he took the job. Really pissed me off at the time, but I suppose that was kind of the point, wasn't it? Anyhow, not long after that St. John wrote the Book of Revelations, and they've never looked back. I wish them all the best.

F: So you have no regrets?

D: No, no. I've kept busy, had my own little groups now and again; I played with the Six Deadly Sins, while Lust was off on her solo tour, I did a tour with See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. I've had a good life. And to be honest, fame's not all it's cracked up to be. You've heard about Pestilence, right?

F: Heard what, exactly?

D: Drug problem. I thought everyone knew, it's been around for almost a century now. Started with penicillin, then got onto the hard stuff--now it's antibiotics and antiseptics everywhere you look. Still, I think he's starting to get over it. And Death, War, and Famine have never been hard up for gigs. Hey--War hasn't even had to leave home. He just stays at the Tigris and Euphrates, and new wars come to him like clockwork.

F: So what are your plans for the future?

D: Not sure. I should probably die, at some point. I know Death's been reluctant to bring it up, since we are old friends, but I'm definitely past my prime. But I'll take life as it comes, and so will he.

F: Thank you very much for your time.

D: No problem.

(War, Famine, Pestilence and Death refused to comment on this interview.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Depressing Geek Thought of the Day

So, as we're all well aware, 'The Muppet Show' introduced us to Scooter, the gofer. The equally seminal cartoon, 'Muppet Babies', was a prequel to 'The Muppet Show', and introduced Scooter's (presumably) sister, Skeeter.

Whatever happened to Skeeter?

Because she was around when they were kids, but she wasn't there for the glory days in the Muppet Theatre. She wasn't around when Kermit got his own TV network for 'The Jim Henson Hour', nor for 'Muppets Tonight'. She wasn't seen in any of the movies. Somewhere between their young, idealistic days as carefree youths, and their time at the top, Skeeter just...vanished.

There are any number of suspects. Gonzo...what can you say, the man is known as being erratic, unstable, and having bizarre sexual tastes. Fozzie--sure, he's cute, cuddly, nice, and funny. But he's a bear. Did nature simply rear its ugly head sometime during Muppet Puberty? ("Muppet Teens" would be an entire depressing geek sitcom in and of itself.) Miss Piggy is known for having a violent temper and not caring for other women--did she decide Skeeter was growing too close to Kermit? And, of course, no list of suspects could possibly be complete without including known psycopath Animal.

But, of course, Skeeter might have nobody to blame but herself. She might have drifted in with the wrong crowd. While Scooter was hanging out at the Muppet Theatre, Skeeter might have been hanging out in the back alley giving blowjobs to furries in exchange for a hit of cheap cotton stuffing and some yarn. From there, the inevitable slide to freebasing googly eyeballs and overdosing on foam rubber led her to a stay in Hazelton, but her attempt at carving out her own identity as an entertainer went nowhere. Skeeter was probably found dead in a hotel room at age 24, and we didn't even notice the obit because who pays attention to junkie puppets these days?

Skeeter, the forgotten Muppet. There but for the Grace of Jim go we all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Testing...

Hi. My name is John Seavey, and I'm a freelance writer. I've done some RPG work for a few companies, I write things, but I've been very resistant to doing a blog because I have a fundamental belief that I'm a very boring person. This belief hasn't changed. My life is not interesting. I find blogging, as a phenomenon, weird. I can't understand how anyone thinks their own life is interesting enough to expect loads of other people to want to read about it all the time--and how they don't worry that people they're talking about in uncomplimentary terms might read it and get irate.

But I need to be writing. I need to get into the habit of writing again. I've not been into that habit for a few months now (for boring personal reasons), and I need to get back into it. So this is a blog where I'm not going to talk about myself, I'm not going to talk about other people, I'm just going to try to write a little something every day that I hope will be interesting, just to get back into the swing of writing. Just a little fragment. This blog is "fraggmented". (Because "fragged" was taken.)